August 4, 2015
In Indiana, attending the public school of one’s choice is as easy as it has ever been. However, there are still many issues and requirements for parents and students alike to consider.
Tim Shelly, a partner with the Elkhart-based law firm Warrick & Boyn, offered insight on what is known as tuition-free student transfers. As an attorney with Warrick & Boyn, he advises several public school corporations on a variety of student, teacher, governance and administrative issues.
Shelly points out that as a general rule – and the way Indiana law was structured for years – a child should enroll in the school district where he or she spends most nights. That could mean living with a parent, other relative or other support unit.
“Where the student sleeps most of the time is the default setting for which public school corporation in which to enroll,” he said.
In the past, parents could enroll their children at any public school so long as they paid a sizable portion of the state-subsidized tuition for the student, which used to be $2,000 to $3,000 per year.
“That is out the window now,” Shelly said, noting that the Indiana Legislature changed the law around 2010 to allow for students to attend the school corporation of their choice without paying a tuition fee.
“Students can go anywhere they want for school, provided the school is willing to take them and has a policy of accepting transfer-tuition students,” Shelly said, adding that the majority of Indiana school corporations have such a policy.
Immediately after the change in state guidelines, school corporations had much flexibility regarding how they would accept transfers and which students they would accept. Naturally, school officials wanted “good” students with high standardized test scores who weren’t troublemakers. “Bad” students were stuck in their home school corporation.
That is no longer the case, according to Shelly, who said state statute has been modified.
“The statute now limits how schools can choose to accept students,” he said.
Academically-struggling students who don’t have the greatest test scores? School corporations who accept transfer students have to accept those pupils if there is room for them.
There are certain exceptions. School officials do not have to accept transfers of students who have been suspended for 10 days or expelled in the prior year, nor do they have to accept students who have committed or are being prosecuted for violent crimes. They also don’t have to accept students guilty of firearm or drug violations.
Shelly explained that every year, school corporations must designate the number of spots they have available for transfer students. If more students apply than there are spots available, a lottery is held to determine which students are accepted.
According to Shelly, school corporations have an incentive to accept transfers.
“Students are very valuable to a school corporation,” he said. “When you really distill it down, that’s how school corporations get paid by the state. The more students you have in your school corporation, the more money you have to run that school corporation – pay teachers’ salaries, operate buildings, run the school buses, things along those lines. The (state educational funding) essentially follows the student. A student is worth $5,000 to $6,000 to a school corporation. There is a huge incentive for a school corporation to keep the students they have and to seek students who are willing to transfer.”
Students who are willing to transfer can enjoy a sense of security in their new environment: Once accepted as a transfer student, the pupil can continue on in that school corporation.
“A school corporation can’t say, ‘We’ll take you this year, but there’s no room for you next year,’” Shelly said. “Siblings fall under that same context. School corporations can’t say, ‘We’ll take two siblings, but the third has to stay home.’”
Shelly noted that transfers are always contingent on whether there is enough room for them in a school corporation. Individual school space issues can come into play, particularly at the elementary level. Generally, Shelly said, students will be allowed into a school corporation, but may not be able to pick the specific school they wish to attend.
Shelly also listed a few things parents and students should bear in mind regarding school transfers:
In most cases, they will have to provide transportation to the school. “School corporations are not required to provide transportation to transfer students,” he said. “Some school corporations will pick up a transfer student at one of the corporation’s regular bus stops, so you don’t have to go all the way to the school to drop off your child.”
Each school will have a deadline to request a tuition-free transfer. “You need to find out what that deadline is and meet that deadline,” Shelly said. “That’s kind of the line in the sand, so to speak.” He added that if the deadline is not met, parents can still opt to pay the state tuition amount – the old way of doing things, basically – to transfer a student.
Athletics is not an acceptable reason to switch schools. “Technically, you are not allowed to consider high school athletics as a basis for your transfer request,” Shelly said. “If you transfer for the purpose of participating in high school athletics, the Indiana High School Athletic Association has the ability to say you are ineligible to play. It’s completely out of the school’s hands, completely out of the state Legislature’s hands. That’s a decision the sports’ governing body makes.”
Warrick & Boyn, LLP, is a full-service law firm in Elkhart, Ind., that practices in all areas of business and corporate law. Areas of practice include commercial litigation, creditors’ rights and bankruptcy law, labor and employment law, defense litigation, securities law and regulation, worker’s compensation defense, education and school law, EEOC law, employee benefits law and pension plans, environmental law and regulation, tax and estate planning, municipal law, and property and real estate law. The firm’s clients are located primarily in northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan, and most of the attorneys are licensed to practice in both Indiana and Michigan.